Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Glass by Ellen Hopkins

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
688 pages

Glass is the second verse novel of the trilogy about crystal meth-addict Kristina Georgia Snow. Glass is a well-written, interesting, and informative novel on a difficult issue.

Kristina became hooked on crystal meth after using it with a friend during a summer visit with her Dad in the previous novel Crank. She picks up the deadly habit again right after she gives birth to her first child, a boy named Hunter.

The progression of her drug addiction and her thought processes are very realistic. The way she rationalizes her bad decisions and denies her logical thinking are classic addiction symptoms.

Kristina's situation is frightening not only because her life is in danger, but her baby's life is at risk at well. Fortunately for her son, Kristina's mother and stepfather adopt him and save him from Kristina's irresponsibility.

The worst part about Kristina's struggles with the drug is her inability to recognize exactly how low she is sinking and where she is heading due to her addiction.

A young woman named Robyn who Kristina used to get meth from ended up leaving college and working in a whorehouse to pay for her meth dependency, yet Kristina uses Robyn as a client for her drug deals. Kristina's downward spiral causes her to lose custody of Hunter, but she doesn't really care.

The novel ends with Kristina and her boyfriend Trent's arrest and the series continues with the next book Fallout.

Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story by Rachel Kadish

Rating: 3.5 out 5 stars
336 pages

Tolstoy Lied is Kadish's second novel. The premise of this novel can be taken from a quote in the book, "People talk about culture wars over sexuality and race. But we're in a culture war over the nature and feasibility of happiness and no one even acknowledges it" (160). The main character, Dr. Tracy Farber, is a single 33-year old professor at a university in New York.

In the beginning of the novel Tracy is focused on her career--putting together her tenure packet, applying for fellowships, and an "ambitious" writing project where she claims Tolstoy is a liar about happy people. Tracy believes that in the world of literature scholars celebrate the works of tragedy and dismiss works with a even a hint of a happy ending, which affects writers who follow the status quo.

From the title of the book and the blurb this was purported to be the main idea, Tracy deciding she can be happy without marriage and kids though society insists that's what is needed for a happy life, which essentially stereotypes all happy endings.

This isn't really what the novel is about. In fact, Tracy's life appears to be boring and empty before she meets her love interest George. And I don't mean that Tracy was not invested in her career and was not passionate, it's just that there was rarely time for her big happiness project to develop before she turned into a typical romance novel heroine.

Tracy was reduced to a blubbering, whiny female too quickly. It is hard to buy that she was independent and happy to be single when she thought about her friends getting married and her being single several times early in the novel and met George soon after. Tracy is human of course, so she wasn't going to be oblivious to her marital status, but the grand happiness theory was barely explored before she met her man.

Tolstoy's name in the title convinced me this book was going to be more profound than other romance novels. Not so. It was formulaic. The meeting, the get together, the break up, the reunion. The really interesting element was not the "love story", but Tracy's workplace. There was a lot of cattiness and politics going on at her job, which included a very heartbreaking situation with a mentally ill graduate student. Those aspects of the story were worth analyzing and feeling personally offended over.

For instance--If you know that someone at your job is doing something very sinister, in a manipulative and difficult-to-prove manner, how would you handle it? Tracy was dealing with a professor in her department that was manipulative like Iago from Othello. It was disturbing what the woman did to Tracy and to her advisee Elizabeth. The professor who did her dirt and ruined people's lives out of spite did it with no remorse; she was a relentless snake. It was heinous what she did to Tracy and Elizabeth.
Back to the love story part. The problem with Tracy and George was that they weren't in sync when they got engaged. Tracy didn't even realize she was being proposed to when George "asked" her to marry him. It took them several months to get back together once Tracy had the courage to admit she felt he was rushing them into marriage. George was a nice enough guy, but he had some deep insecurities about his father and his ability to be head of the household for his own family. But in the end, he came back to Tracy and she welcomed him with open arms. 

I Wish I Had a Red Dress by Pearl Cleage

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
336 pages

The main character's sister in What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day is the focus in the delightful sequel to Pearl Cleage's debut novel. I Wish I Had a Red Dress tells the story of Joyce Mitchell, a widow who is determined to help the young women in Idlewild while finding inner peace.

Joyce is strong and optimistic despite losing her husband, parents, and children over the course of her life. She started a support group called the Sewing Circus to assist young mothers and spends countless hours setting an example and teaching them life lessons. There are challenges with funding, but Joyce works with her members to make ideas come to fruition to keep their program running.

While Joyce is concentrating on her serving her small town, she meets a handsome new staff member of the local high school, Nate Anderson, through her friend's maneuvering. Joyce is instantly attracted to him, but she is not sure is she's ready to date again. Nate understands her hesitation and respects her needs. When a member of the Sewing Circus is in danger with her ex-boyfriend Joyce and Nate work together to ensure the girl's safety.

By the novel's end Joyce decides to wear the red dress Nate bought for her and start the next phase of her life. After all her recent experiences she feels free enough to embrace a new love and continue her civic service without grieving over her past. Joyce has found the strength and healing she needed to move on. The theme of living life to the fullest regardless of the circumstances is eloquently demonstrated with maturity, respect and wisdom.

Quotations from I Wish I Had a Red Dress:

"I wish I had a red dress. I've been wearing black for so long I feel like one of those ancient women in the foreign movies who are always sitting around, fingering their rosary beads and looking resigned while the hero rides to his death on behalf of the people, or for the sake of true love, which is really six of one, half dozen of the other, when you think about it." (3)

“Life is much harder than anybody can possibly tell you, but it doesn’t matter because even if they could, you wouldn’t believe them and what good would it do anyway?” (8)

“A free woman …is someone who can fully conceive and consciously execute all the moments of her life.” (19)

“What’s the point of fighting for the truth if you’re not allowed to tell it?” (22)

“The advantage of faith in moments of crisis and transition is that when the rest of us find ourselves swimming in guilt, fear, confusion and second-guessing, the true believer simply goes with the flow.” (23)
“Come on,” she said. “Can you really imagine a world without men?” “Absolutely,” I said. “It’s a peaceful place full of fat, happy women and no football.” (27,28)

“Sometimes you have to give the correct even when you’re not really feeling it yet so you can hear how it’s going to sound when you finally get it together for real.” (31)

“We all laughed then, partly because it was funny, but partly because forgetting how to have a good time on Saturday night is as lethal as smoking crack. It just takes a little longer to kill you.” (61)

“If you did feel free, what would you do differently?” I looked at him. “Everything.” (258)